Australian scientists have announced the discovery of a new dinosaur on a cattle property in central Queensland – the third significant find of its kind on the continent.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and the University of New England say the theropod near Winton in central Queensland is approximately 95 million years old.
Remains uncovered include two partial vertebrae, three bones from hands and feet, and several other unidentifiable bone fragments.
While they bear similarity to the most complete Australian dinosaur find, the Australovenator wintonensis, found nearby in 2006, palaeontologist Matt White said key variations indicate it could be a new species.
Dr White, lead researcher from UNE in Armidale, told news.com.au that "it probably belongs to this group of medium-sized, quite vicious carnivorous dinosaurs" that he colloquially calls "the big boy of Australia".
"This discovery is very exciting. It's only the third collection of bones found in Australia of this individual (group of dinosaur). We believe this new discovery is similar to that."
And its find was quite by chance, Dr White revealed.
Local grazier Bob Elliott found some fossil remains on his property just outside Winton and called in the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in 2017.
"We were digging for remains on Bob's property when we had a big dump of rain, which caused the pit to close for a day or two – it got so muddy," Dr White said.
"So we went looking around surrounding paddocks for fossils instead. One of the organisers stumbled across these bones about 10 minutes later.
"We had a look and it was a pretty exciting deposit. It was quite a fortunate find. We flagged it and came back in 2018 and dug the site properly."
The huge deposit of fragments on the surface were carefully collected and a deeper dig down to two metres took place.
"Unfortunately we dug down and there was nothing else," Dr White said. "What we had on the surface was it.
"We went away and sorted through all the remains and we found bits and pieces that were identifiable and quite comparable to Australovenator.
"The bones discovered are slightly larger than Australovenator and show anatomical variations indicating that they may belong to a new species."
This new find on the northern margins of the Winton Formation geological deposit is between 93 and 95 million years old – similar in age to discoveries made in Lightning Ridge on the NSW-Queensland border.
"There have been quite a few individual elements found along the Victorian coastline but they're about 12 million years older than this stuff."
Dr White said this significant breakthrough is "just the tip of the iceberg" when it comes to Australian dinosaur discoveries.
"We're starting to get a better idea of the ecosystem – what was around – we've got plants, shells and other fossils. Each year we're finding something new."
Many of the tips received by palaeontologists come from private landholders, such as farmers who come across fossils and call in scientists.
New technology that allows rocks of interest to be scanned, creating a digital extract of bones within, is also helping lead to new discoveries, Dr White said.
"Occasionally we might get a grant to go out and explore. I just like looking for fossils so I out a fair bit. But more often than not, the actual discoveries are made by landholders and they'll notify a museum.
"We then go out for a look.
"That's how the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum started – cattle mustering uncovered some fossils and it went from there."
And while today's new is significant, it won't be the last announcement this year.
"We'll have another exciting release later on this year, hopefully. The research work on that is almost finished.
"And then we're back out in the field in June."